On July 6, 1897, Charles Gorman was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Only God knew Charles was destined for greatness. At that time, the sport of speed skating was popular in Saint John. It began in 1850. By the time Charles was a young lad, the sport was at its peak in popularity.
It was only natural that as soon as Charles could walk, he was given a pair of skates. He and his friends skated on one of the many ponds in the city, mostly just depressions that filled with water and froze in the winter.
In 1907, at the age of ten, Charles took part in his first race and a few years later won the Maritime Speed Skating Championship.
Charles’ skating came to a halt in 1914 when World War One broke out. He enlisted in the army and became a machine gunner. On a hill in France called Vimy Ridge, Charles found himself in midst of a fierce battle between the Canadian Corps and three battalions of the German Sixth Army. It was a strategic location in Canada’s bid to free France of German occupation.
Acidic smoke drifted over the battleground. Men fought and died. Charles held his machinegun and protected his position. The whistle of an incoming bomb assaulted his ears. He ducked into his foxhole, but the bomb landed close by. Charles screamedas shrapnel tore into his legs.
Charles woke in a French hospital. The doctor looked grim. “Charles, there was significant damage to your legs.” The doctor paused.
Charles looked at him. Fear made him nauseous. “Doc?”
“Charles, you’ll never skate competitively again. I’m sorry.”
That night, Charles lay in bed and vowed to prove the doctor wrong.
He returned to Canada and was discharged from the army on May 2, 1919.
Throughout the summer, he struggled to walk and regain strength in his legs. Winter came. The Saint John River froze. Charles sat on the shore and tied his skates for the first time in several years. “You’ll never skate again.” The doctor’s words echoed in his mind. He felt the fear return. A cold wind followed the curves of the riverbank and made his damaged legs ache.
Charles gritted his teeth, remembered his vow to prove the doctor wrong, and stood on shaky legs. He pushed off with his right skate. The cold wind and pain drew tears from his eyes. The ice, frozen during a wind, was rough. It rattled under Charles’skates and reminded him of his machinegun’s vibration. His damaged legs throbbed under the assault. No one watched the lonely skater struggle across the ice. His days of glory were behind him. He had more than the doctor’s words against him.
No matter how cold it got, the determined young man laced his skates, endured the pain, and made his way across the barren ice. White streaks on the surface marked his passage. Day-by-day, Charles strength returned. The pain subsided. The cold wind that brought tears was now caused by his own speed. He was ready.
Charles returned to competitive skating. In 1926, he won the world championships on Lily Lake, just outside the city of Saint John, from Clas Thunberg of Finland. Twenty thousand people stood and cheered the man they once lost hope for. It was a historic day. He won both the 220 and 440-yard events.
Charles went on to become the first Canadian skater to cross the Atlantic to skate competitively. Although he never won an Olympic medal, Charles went on to set seven world records and participate in, not one, but two Olympics. In 1924, he finished 7th in the 500 meter event and 11th in the 1500. Four years later, he did the same and is now enshrined in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Charles is an example of a person who heard the words “It’s over” and used it positively. Many will believe the words, roll over, and give up. Some, like Charles, see the challenge, and step forward.
Charles stepped forward.
Note: People like Charles are rare. Those like him have greatness about them. I have a friend who is living prove of stepping forward. His name is Mike Segal. Here is Mike’s video.